Huge asteroid 1998QE2 to zip by Earth, offer skywatchers, scientists a glimpse

rockAt 4:59 p.m. eastern time today, a massive space rock about 1.7 miles in diameter, will make its closest approach to our planet on its long cosmic voyage.

Known as asteroid 1998QE2, it will pass at a safe distance away from Earth: about 3.8 million miles away or 15 times as distant as the moon.

“‘QE2′ is not an homage to England’s Queen Elizabeth II,” says the American Meteor Society. “Newfound asteroids are named according to an established alphanumeric scheme that lays out when it was discovered.”

NASA’s touting the asteroid’s passage as a most opportune time to study its structure and composition.

“…both the Goldstone and Arecibo radars should be able to make detailed images of 1998 QE2,” says Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The radar maps should rival images of other asteroids obtained by spacecraft during flyby missions.”

Already the Goldstone radar imagery has led to discovery. On Wednesday, it revealed the asteroid was orbited by a complementing rocky body, or moon – making it a so-called binary asteroid. About 16 percent of asteroids the size of 1998QE2 come in groups of two or three NASA says.

Via NASA: First radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2 were obtained when the asteroid was about 3.75 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Earth. The radar collage covers a little bit more than two hours.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

Via NASA: First radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2 were obtained when the asteroid was about 3.75 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Earth. The radar collage covers a little bit more than two hours. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

Backyard skywatchers can also catch a glimpse of the asteroid NASA says:

Although the closest approach is on May 31st, the best time to observe 1998 QE2 will be during the first week of June when the asteroid enters northern skies. At that time, its sunlit side will face Earth, making it an easy target for large backyard telescopes. At maximum brightness on June 3rd and 4th it is expected to glow like an 11th magnitude star.

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Newly discovered small asteroid just misses Earth; next up is much bigger 12/12/12 asteroid (December 11, 2012)

Close asteroid encounter tonight exposes potential hazard (September 13, 2012)

Big asteroid to zip by Earth tonight (June 14, 2012)

Asteroid to just miss Earth on tonight’s flyby (November 8, 2011)

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